Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Little Less Than Two Weeks to Go...

...in my summer assignment here in Pikeville, and I realized I hadn't taken time to post to my blog for a couple of weeks. Here toward the end of the summer, I've been a bit busier as it began to get closer to two events that will cap off my summer 'vacation'.

First, I've been privileged to be a part of the group preparing to host a diocesan wide retreat for young adults (late teens to early twenties) called "SEARCH". SEARCH is a retreat designed to help young adults make an important transition in their faith journey to living an adult faith journey that is authentically their own in some respects. I'm gathering this from what I've learned at the preparation meetings - I've never been on SEARCH before. It is somewhat unique in that the retreat is led by other young adults who have previously made a SEARCH retreat themselves. I got invited in a dual role as the designated 'gopher' for the staff, as well as the 'token seminarian' - each SEARCH has a token married couple, a token single person, a token priest, and a token seminarian; each participates on the staff of the retreat in some form as well as speaking at a session of the retreat about the particular vocation they are living. SEARCH is this coming weekend - pray for the staff and all who will participate. (Check out our SEARCH website, www.searchky.org).

Second, some long time blog readers will remember the ROCK THE COLLAR road trip I took last year with my brother seminarians around the diocese. We're doing the trip again this year - jumping in a Dodge Durango and travelling around the diocese - one parish each day for nearly two weeks - getting to know the priests and people we may one day be blessed to serve. With some changes in our group of seminarians, I'm honored to take a stronger leadership role in this year's trip - and it has taken some time to prepare for that.

So what else have I been up to? Let's see... I've been working with the parish administrative assistant on creating a new parish photo directory - we've got that pretty much in shape and will be ready to publish it just before my assignment ends. (Who needs professional photographers and all that expense when we've got digital cameras, Microsoft Publisher, and color laser printers?) I've also been setting up the necessary arrangements for the community to do non-profit fundraising on eBay. You wouldn't BELIEVE the different hoops to jump through to get that set up - but the good news is, now the parish can sell all KINDS of things on eBay as a way to raise money for the school and missions.

I've spent some time in the Pike County missions as well (thought not as much I would have liked). A couple of weekends ago while I was off to a SEARCH meeting, there was a small flood at the Phelps mission, so one day last week I went up there with Fr. Wil to do a small amount of cleanup. This week there was a group of folks from a religious community at the Elkhorn City mission doing some home repair for families in the area and some work at the thrift store - so this evening Fr. Wil and I went over there to celebrate mass and share a (FABULOUS) meal with them. I met and spent some time talking with an amazing young woman from Kenya who is discerning God's call in her life, and trying to pray and listen to where that calling may lead. Pray with me for her - she has an amazing love for those in this world who society all to easily pushes out of sight and out of mind (and, as much as I hate to say that, I include even our Catholic society in that indictment). May God bless her in His calling for her life and ministry.

I've also been helping coordinate some small repairs and risk management items here at the parish that need to be attended to. And of course, doing quite a bit of reading. LOL.

When its all said and done, the assignment has been nothing that I expected. In fact, in many ways, its been everything but what I expected. I could go so far as to say its been anything other than what I needed...but that would be premature. Who am I to judge what I do or don't need right now on this journey? What I do know is that where ever we are, whatever we are doing, if we're listening for God to speak and looking for Him to work in our lives - well, He's right there! :-) And, I've certainly found that to be true this summer as well.

I have learned that the mission areas of our diocese - if they're like the parish and missions of Pike County - are beautiful places, with beautiful and loving people, and it would be an honor to serve them. As different as ministry looks on the surface here in Pike County, from what I've seen there are important and fundamental similarities: making Christ present in the community; loving the people around you - within the Church or not; bringing good news - The Good News - to the world...much more by what you do (and especially, perhaps, what you do and how you do it when you're falling far short of the mark) than by anything you say.

I'm far from perfect. I'm far from having all the answers. I'm just another sinner - goofing, making mistakes, tripping over the same shoelaces day in and day out sometimes. But I'm excited by knowing that how I live THAT life has the power to help others see a loving Savior reaching out to them as well. ;-)

Anyway... that's what I've been up to.

Here are some pictures of the people and places of the community that has welcomed me these past weeks:

Jesus of the Mountains in Phelps, KY:

The Jesus of the Mountains Catholic Church

The living room of this house is converted into our worship space for the Phelps community. Here you see the altar where Fr. Wil presides at the Mass, while the assembly sits in the orange chairs which you see.

The Tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved is directly across from the altar behind two or three rows of chairs where the assembly gather for Mass. In the right of the picture you see the kitchen of the converted house, which doubles as a sacristy.

The Catholic community at Phelps just after the Saturday evening Mass.

St. Joseph the Worker in Elkhorn City, KY:

St. Joseph the Worker Catholic Church.

Just inside the Church building, you see first the Easter Candle and Baptismal Font, beyond which is setup several chairs where the assembly gathers for mass, and just beyond those the altar where Fr. Wil presides at Mass.

Some of the Catholic community at Elkhorn City with Alan following a Sunday morning mass.

Sunday morning might be the only day you'd find the Thrift Store empty. Here's a picture of part of the store, which is run in the basement of the Elkhorn City church.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Another Honest Prayer...

One of my favorite prayers for more than 10 years now is Thomas Merton's "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me..... It captures where I have been and where I am so many days - honestly. There have been many experiences, many guides, many angels along the way that have taught me to real value in 'authentic prayer' - praying what I REALLY feel - letting God see and talk to me face to face, apart from the masks of who I should be or how I should be feeling.... My relationship with God grows when I offer Him who I am, where I am, just as I am. (To read the rest of the Merton prayer, click here.

This morning during a brief meditation, I re-read a prayer sent to me by a good friend from the Archdiocese of Louisville in a booklet about Henri J. M. Nouwen. And - yep - there are days (although for me not necessarily today) - but there are days when THIS prayer captures where I am.

Dear Lord,
I will remain restless, tense, and dissatisfied until I can be totally at peace in your house. But I am still on the road, still journeying, still tired and weary...

Sometimes the journey seems to be so long. The challenges seem to be so great. The load seems to be so heavy. Sometimes I don't think I even know which road I'm on any more, and the ability to put one foot in front of the other seems like a robotic, automatic action - and there's barely enough strength to take that next step, no less consider where I'm headed...

I keep asking your angel, whom I meet on the road, "Does the road go uphill then all the way?" And the answer is, "Yes - to the very end." And I ask again, "And will the journey take all day long?" And the answer is: "From morning till night, my friend."

Oh gosh, my friends - that's often not the answer I want to hear. Sometimes, as I pray, and ask - and hear the answer repeated, sometimes I'm not ashamed to admit, I feel as if that news is more burden than I can carry. You mean I just gotta' keep doing this? Wow.

But if I let myself be washed over by those feelings of being overwhelmed - if I surrender to them just a moment, I ALWAYS find that right when it seems most hopeless, there's a light of hope burning strong inside. God present in me, I guess. A light of hope and encouragement that begins to say, "It's not all bad. It's worth it. I CAN do this. I WANT to do this. And - GOSH - LOOK, just LOOK where I'm headed!!! I can keep going. I can... I really can...

The trick is in the momentary surrender to what is real - that momentary 'realness' with myself and with God where the overwhelming wave of it all washes over me. I think that's the key for me because, where that wave wants to take me is just not where I am. The waves gather sand from the shore - but not the rock. I think when I surrender to that overwhelming wave of helplessness and neverending journey, and I let that wave wash over me - ready to let me take it where it will - then I come face-to-face with an important reality in my life: I'm living a life that's not built on or of sand. And even I can't fail to see that the rock hold firm, even if I didn't expect it to. When I surrender, I see a reality - instead of being washed completely away, I reamin anchored... and then that fire of hope and excitement and adventure is revealed in all its brightness...

So I go on, Lord, tired, often frustrated, irritated, but always hopeful to reach one day the eternal city far away...

There is no certainty that my life will be any easier in the years ahead... But there IS the certainty that You are waiting for me and will welcome me home...

O Lord, give me courage, hope, and confidence. Amen.

Pray honest. Let God (and you) come face to face with what IS - and just watch, my friends, just watch your anchor hold.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Ministry Comes in Many Shapes & Forms...

One of the things I've always known - and that I'm learning even more deeply this summer - is that 'ministry' is not always confined to the ways and times and places we would initially use to define it.

Where does ministry happen?
At church. Well... yes - of course. But not only at church. If we limit ourselves to thinking that our ministry (as priests, seminarians, moms & dads, Sunday school teachers, good parishoners & catechists, etc) if we think of our ministry as only taking place at church, we're leaving a lot on the table... and chances are, our ministry won't be effective. Ministry happens wherever we are - as long as we're going where the people of God are.

When does ministry happen?
At mass. In the confessional. In formal counseling or spiritual direction sessions. Well... yes - of course. But not only in these 'formal ministry settings'. Ministry happens through relationships. We make Christ present in our lives and in the lives of others in day to day happenings. We 'minister' to others around the dinner table, in the car on a trip, on the phone talking with a friend, at the movie theater... Wherever we are.

What is ministry?
Well - sometimes ministry is just relationship. We minister to others by loving them. By having an honest, integral, building-up relationship. We minister to others when we talk about God - and sometimes most effectively when we're not 'formally' talking about God, but just living our God-centered lives in community with others. There's 'formal' ministry - which is ever so important, and often gets a great deal of our attention (in formation as a seminarian, for example). And there's 'informal ministry' - and often I'm afraid we don't pay enough attention to this.

Ask any your minister you know... any youth minister who's young people are experiencing a real relationship with God... and they'll tell you - the 'informal ministry' is as important as the 'formal ministry'. In fact, often the informal ministry is the only key that opens the door to real formal ministry.

And I don't think that's any less true for the rest of the Church - this isn't a principle that's only in play with the yunggins.

Gee - that was way off course from where I thought I was at when I started writing this. What I planned to share - and will now - is one of the interesting ways I've been involved in 'ministry' this summer in Pikeville. Are you ready??? This may surprise you... OK - here goes:

Building a Greenhouse for the Parish School

taaa daaa!!! Ministry.

Yep - there was a great opportunity in building this little greenhouse for me to BOTH participate in ministering to others in the parish AND (... wait for it... here it comes... ) allow myself to be ministered to. SHOCK! I find, if I remain open, and am genuinely trying to make Christ present in the most mundane kinds of ministry (like building a greenhouse), I ALWAYS come away knowing that I, too, have been in the presence of Christ. I ALWAYS come away knowing that God has blessed me as much in the work and effort as He may have blessed others through my effort.

Don't get me wrong - I think its dangerous to do ministry for this kind of 'payback' blessing. That approach could get us so focused on our 'good feeling' and 'the return' that, whever it goes missing so would our ministry. And that's dangerous and one sided. For me, however, (at least so far) I find that if I walk away without having that feeling of 'being ministered to' - there's probably something about my approach I need to check. (And the BEST news of all is this: even if there IS something within that I need to check, if I'm doing my best, it seems I've still been able to 'minsiter to others'.)

Anyway... enough of my rambling... here are pictures of the "Great Greenhouse Build of 2008" - an opportunity of ministry I was blessed to participate in. I got a chance to meet, work with, and get to know some great folks... and create a space for the students at St. Francis School to learn more about caring for our earth.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I Doubt It...

“I doubt it.” How many times a day do you think it? We doubt the superficial and irrelevant all the time I suppose. It’s going to rain this afternoon. I doubt it. Or maybe My NASCAR driver is going to win, and the new UK coach will win the championship this year. I doubt it. Sometimes we doubt ourselves – and that’s a little more important, a little less superficial. I’m going to exercise this week. I doubt it. Or maybe I’m going to spend quality time with the kids. I doubt it. Maybe it’s ever deeper. I’m doing a good job as a mother or father. I doubt it. Maybe somewhere inside there’s even sometimes a more fundamental question: I’m a good person – lovable and loved. I doubt it. Yes, doubting it can be quite a lot more than superficial and irrelevant. And it seems sometimes our doubting doesn’t just stay confined to one area of our life. If we’re doubters (and, we can probably admit it, right… we’re all doubters sometimes, aren’t we??) If we’re doubters – we’re doubters even about the most important things at times: The hairs on your head have been counted… I knew you before you were in the womb… You are a child of God… God made you specifically, exactly the way you are… God loves you… You have been forgiven… You are special because of who and how you are in God’s eyes… Hmmmm…. Do we ever ‘doubt it’?
Prove it! That’s what we say. Prove it! We say it about the superficial and irrelevant doubts. We say it to ourselves. ‘Talk is cheap… the proof is in the pudding… show me what you’re made of… I don’t believe it.’ We’re proof-oriented people. Sometimes our doubt is so strong, we don’t even acknowledge our desire for proof. Sometimes, we know we’re not supposed to doubt, and we can’t even acknowledge it to ourselves – not to mention someone else; or God – that we doubt. It’s part of the mask we sometimes wear to feel better and safer and more secure in ourselves and our lives and our faith… because sometimes this illusion of security and steadfastness is – we think – all that can make the genuine doubt or fear or loss of anchor or anxiety livable.
Consciously or not, we think ignoring, burying, or hiding our doubts is the best solution to overcoming them. And perhaps this is a result of the most fundamental doubt of all that sometimes plagues us. The doubt that if we doubt we’re somehow less human, less acceptable, and less lovable by God. So we get on that bandwagon that has lashed St. Thomas all these years… ‘Don’t be a doubting Thomas,’ we say. ‘He’s such a doubting Thomas,’ someone says and we nod our heads. And we hear a homily rebuking the sin of doubt (and it is, after all, rebukable) – and we nod our heads, and bury our doubt even further within… doubting that our fragile faith would survive the fear and ridicule that surely would be ours for being ‘a Thomas’; perhaps even more afraid of how God would view our doubts… if we were to ever bring that idea any closer to mind than the extreme boundary of our consciousness where even now we probably try to push the possibility aside.
You may doubt that you doubt – but I know I do. God save me, I doubt. Sometimes about big things in big ways. Other times about little things in big ways. But sometimes doubt follows me about like a shadow. And when I try to dress it up, or make it disappear, or ignore it, all I do is add layers and layers of makeup masking myself from my brothers and sisters… and more disastrously, masking myself from God. When I cover up my doubt because “Good Christians” or “Good Catholics” or “Good Seminarians” or “Good Priests” don’t doubt – well then, all I’m doing is hiding my face from the God who loves me; just like Adam and Eve hiding their nakedness from God in the garden. Oh… but what my heart longs for is to stand face to face with Him, to reveal myself completely to Him in the light of truth… and chase away the doubt with knowledge and experience of being known and loved… without the makeup covering the doubt. Yes, what my heart truly desires is elimination of doubt… but you see, we can’t do that unless we acknowledge it, look at it in the light of day ourselves, forget our pretensions about whether or not we ‘should’ doubt… and get to the truth of it. And then, oh friends… then we’ll see that we can hand our doubt to God… and put our hands in the nail marks of our Lord’s hands… and believe.
Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. An apostle whose words we all seek to make our own: “My Lord and my God.” Thomas’ doubt flowered into faith – a faith that is available to us all. Doubt isn’t disastrous to our faith – unless we keep it hidden, unless we hide it from even ourselves. No, my brothers and sisters, doubt that is offered to God in the light of truth, it flowers into faith. Because our Lord is always there to invite us to believe – if we invite Him into our doubt. Don’t be afraid of your doubt.
What do you doubt today? Can you say it clearly in your mind? Can you accept and own whatever doubts you really have? Do you doubt you have the strength to carry you another step down a difficult path? Do you doubt that God can bless and strengthen your marriage? Do you doubt you have been or are a good parent or spouse? Do you doubt God can love all of you – sin and all, imperfections and all, doubt and all? Do you doubt that God has called – is calling – you to a vocation that is specifically yours; a vocation to marriage, or a vocation to priesthood or religious life, a vocation to single life? Do you doubt you have what it takes to acknowledge that call – to follow that call? Do you doubt you can overcome some sin – some addiction, some pattern of living that seems to hold you prisoner? Do you doubt…? Today, don’t hide from it. Today, learn from Thomas. Today, remove the mask… stand face to face with our Lord and say, “My Jesus, I’m sorry… but I DOUBT.” And listen as our Lord, softly and tenderly – without rebuke, without disappointment – but rather with love, and compassion, and joy at the trust in Him you’ve shown to share your doubt with Him – listen as our Lord gently takes your hand, shows you the Truth that you are most loved by Him… experience today the relief of letting go of that doubt as it fades into the knowledge and experience of a risen God who calls you for His own.
The only doubt that destroys is hidden doubt. When you share your doubt with God, it will be transformed into faith. Thomas only doubted until he gave the doubt to the Lord. Taste and see, beloved, that the Lord is good.

My Lord Jesus – I doubt. Right now in my mind, I face my doubt. Right now in my mind I give it to You. Right now… right now I give You my doubt. I won’t hide it any longer. Turn my doubt to faith. My Lord and my God. Amen.
St. Thomas, pray for us, that we may too receive faith from our doubt.